- Swinden, Greg
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Australia II, HMAS Adelaide I, HMAS Yarra II, HMAS Vampire I, HMAS Cerberus (Shore Establishment), HMAS Penguin II
- December 1995 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Ronald ‘Buck’ Taylor was born in Carlton, Victoria on 29 April 1918, one of ten children born to Elsie and George Taylor, and grew up in the Port Melbourne area. As a child he was fascinated by the warships that visited Melbourne and at the age of seven became a mascot for the sloop HMS MARGUERITE.
On 12 June 1935 at the age of 17 he joined the RAN as an Ordinary Seaman 2nd Class. After his initial training at HMAS CERBERUS he joined the cruiser HMAS AUS TRALIA in April 1936, then on exchange service with the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean. Taylor became an Able Seaman in March 1937 and later returned to CERBERUS in April 1938 to train as a gunnery rating. After qualifying as a Seaman Gunner he joined the destroyer HMAS VAMPIRE. Later Taylor served in HMA Ships PENGUIN, ADELAIDE and AUSTRALIA before joining the sloop HMAS YARRA in August 1939.
When war was declared in September YARRA stayed in Australian waters until August 1940. In August she sailed for overseas service in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. On arrival in the Red Sea the sloop was active as a convoy escort and came under regular attack by the Italian Air Force and Navy.
In August 1941 YARRA took part in the Allied takeover of Iran. Taylor, by now a Leading Seaman, was Captain of Number 2 Gun which fired YARRA’s first shots in the battle of Khorramshahr on 25 August. YARRA sank the Iranian sloop BABR and captured an Iranian gunboat all without loss to the Australians. In November YARRA proceeded to the Mediterranean where she briefly served on the Tobruk ferry run. During her third convoy to Tobruk YARRA was attacked by German Stuka dive bombers. Taylor’s gun was active in beating off the attack and was seen to hit one of the German aircraft.
On 7 December 1941 Japan entered the war following her attack on PearlHarbour. YARRA was ordered to Java in December 1941 to help defend the Far East against the invading Japanese. From January to March 1942 she carried out convoy escort work whilst the Japanese pushed relentlessly southward. In one convoy to Singapore YARRA came under attack from Japanese aircraft. Ron Taylor’s No 2 gun was again instrumental in defending the convoy. On 27 February YARRA left Java on what was to be her last voyage. She had been ordered to sail to Fremantle as escort for a small convoy and her crew who had been absent from Australia for sixteen months were all looking forward to some home leave. At 0630 on 4 March Fremantle was only four days steaming away when the convoy encountered a Japanese force of three cruisers and two destroyers. There was to be no escape. YARRA’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Rankin, turned his ship towards the enemy, ordered the convoy to scatter, began to lay a smoke screen and opened fire on the Japanese in a vain attempt to protect the convoy.
An hour later only YARRA remained from the convoy. The sloop was drifting after shells had wrecked her engine room and two of her three guns had been knocked out. Lieutenant Commander Rankin, ordered abandon ship shortly before a salvo hit the bridge killing all on duty there.
As YARRA’s men abandoned ship they saw that ‘Buck’ Taylor was still at his gun, although most of his gun crew lay dead at his feet. Calling on him to leave he replied “This gun is still firing while I’ve got breath in my body.” 34 men of YARRA’s ships company of 151 made it to the rafts (when they were rescued five days later only 13 were left alive). From here they saw the end of YARRA shortly after 0800. The Japanese destroyers circled the sinking sloop firing, while from the YARRA came slow but accurate return fire.
It was ‘Buck’ Taylor, whose gun had fired YARRA’s first shots at Khorramshahr in 1941. Having ignored the order to abandon ship he remained at Number 2 gun firing slowly but defiantly at the enemy. From YARRA’s battered hulk, from an inferno of smoke and flame Taylor continued firing until death silenced him shortly before the ship went down.